Hermione Granger Potter was busy at work in the kitchen when she heard the sound of a wheelchair pulling up behind her. With eight years of practice, Severus Snape was getting accustomed to moving about the house in his chair. Although he had taken partial paralysis very hard in the aftermath of the snake attack, and spent copious amounts of time feeling sorry for himself, he was doing much better with time.
“What intriguing concoction are you conjuring up this Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Potter?” he queried with raised eyebrow.
“It always comes down to potions for you, doesn’t it, Professor?” she twitted, lifting the lid of a steaming pot to stir the contents.
“Life itself boils down to elements mixed in such and such a fashion. A witch of your training should know that well enough.”
“I know,” she relented. “And now you’re going to lecture me on overcooking vegetables, correct?”
“More specifically carrots,” he clarified. “They turn to mush quite easily if not handled with professional care.”
Hermione rested one hand on her hip. “Remember the last time you complained about my food?”
“Vividly,” he concurred. “It had to do with some very lumpy mashed potatoes.”
“And what happened to said potatoes?”
“They…were flung in my general vicinity.” His eyes sparkled knowingly over her outbursts of temper.
“Well…I did help you clean them off afterwards,” she noted.
“Yes, but still gave me the silent treatment for the whole weekend.”
“Until you read me that book.” She looked tickled by the memory. “You came into the kitchen while I was cooking, and said-” she cleared her throat and assumed a Snape-like monotone – “Mrs. Potter, I believe I have come upon a book which you may find edifying…would you be disturbed if I were to read you some of it while you cooked?”
“It’s the only voice I’ve got, Mrs. Potter, don’t wear it out,” he grumbled.
Hermione giggled. “Well, I did like your book, in spite of myself. Harry works as a literature teacher, and he doesn’t read me poetry like that. Makes me think you’re a far more sentimental man than you know. Comes out when you read, especially John Keats.”
“I…I was trying to…set things to rest between us,” he explained.
“I knew that.” She smiled over her shoulder. “You seemed to think I was going to kick you out of the house or something.”
“No one would have blamed you if…if you wanted me out of your home, the way I was acting.”
“You just can’t help yourself. But I think we’ve grown rather used to each other, don’t you think?”
He looked at her softly. “I…I know I haven’t always been particularly fair to you. But…you’ve proven yourself to be a capable, independent-minded woman who excels at both her pharmaceutical career and as a wife to the heroically incompetent wonder-boy and his rowdy, hyperactive brood.”
Hermione made a snort-laugh. “Well, nice that you could manage to compliment me and insult my whole family in the same breath.”
“Still,” he continued, “you do a good job with them. Potter needed someone like you to keep his head on straight, no two ways about it. And…you’ve shown yourself to be a far better soul than I, putting up with…this manic-depressant, oft-times ungrateful, cynical bastard pinned into a mechanical contraception for the rest of his days.”
“Now it’s not all that bad,” she sighed. “You’re just…you.”
“It was all that bad when I first got in this thing, and you know it.” He squeezed the wheel of the chair indicatively. “You’ve…helped me a lot, in and out of it, over the years. And I was…markedly unkind to you in the beginning. I must have called you every name in the book…”
“Not every name,” she corrected him.
“Well, no,” he conceded. “I’m not the type…to make the exact same mistake twice in a row.”
She shook her head indulgently. “You just redoubled your efforts to knock me down to size from potions class. But in case you’ve noticed, I wouldn’t be knocked.”
“No, you wouldn’t be,” he agreed. “To your credit.” He met her gaze honestly. “When Potter offered to share his room and board with me in the muggle world as opposed to my living in squalor on a measly pension or landing in Azkaban in the wizarding world, I didn’t want any charity. He told me I could contribute to household expense by writing out chemistry manuals, but I imagined it would not go over well with his wife. Being a burden is the last thing pride can allow and I knew…the venom had left me…in a state of requiring some assistance, although I wanted none of it. And on top of that, I knew I would never be a particularly docile patient.”
“I’ll agree with that,” she tossed in teasingly as she sprinkled some more spice in her cheese sauce, stirring it thoroughly.
“But….nevertheless, you’ve handled it with grace. I’ve waited for you to have Potter evict me, tell him to abandon his foolish notion of taking me in to begin with. You’ve been more than wiling to tell me off during my…phases. But you have yet to threaten throwing me out.”
“Of course not,” she confirmed.
He was quiet for a long while, and asked simply, “Why is that?”
“Because,” she started softly. “You just…don’t throw out family.”
Snape blinked. “I’m…I’m not…”
“People don’t have to be related to be connected that way,” she assured him. “Just like people don’t always have to get along to care about each other.” She folded her arms. “Now…what is it you wanted to ask me?”
“Stop beating around the bush; I know there’s something you want.”
His eyes flickered nervously. “I heard…you’re having Minerva McGonagall over this Sunday.”
“Yes, isn’t it exciting? I’ve been dying to see her again. It’s been ages…”
“What I wanted to ask is…I…I don’t want…her to see me like this. It’s been eight years since she laid eyes on me…at the end of the trial, when I was acquitted…and I was in a stretcher then.”
He breathed out through his nostrils, remembering how ashamed he had been as people gawked at him lying there. Even though he had been cleared of the charges laid against him for death-eater activity, he knew that he would always be seen as a slithery pariah, an untrustable collaborator, and perhaps a somewhat fascinating freak. Then he had seen Harry Potter hovering over him, and angrily ordered the boy to make everyone stop looking at him like he was dead and stuffed in a museum display. The ordering soon melted into anguished pleading as all those eyes seemed to bore into him like knives and he felt claustrophobia close in on him.
He had realized in that terrible moment, that no one else intended to help him after this point, that he might just be left immobile on the street like a nasty, injured cat no one wanted to bother with. And no matter how much that cat might snarl and hiss in the beginning, if it found itself cruelly kicked into the alley, hurt and twitching and curled up, the broken creature would start mewing, like any kitten who found itself dying alone without warmth or food or a comforting hand or the ability to help itself.
The prospect had frightened him enough to require Potter and Professor McGonagall both to calm him down, and promise not to leave him to the tender mercies and dehumanizing glares of the onlookers. And now…he’d be seeing her again…
“Would you…help me into a regular chair or a sofa or something, before she arrives? Otherwise, I can just…stay down in the basement until you’re done entertaining…”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hermione huffed. “Of course I’ll help you get settled into wherever you want to be before she comes.”
He looked down shyly. “Thank you.”
“Really, Professor, you make too much drama out of everything. It’s no trouble at all.” She turned and dished out a spoonful of her noodle casserole onto a paper plate. “Since you’re going to complain about it one way or another, you might as well do it now.”
He took the plate and fork she was handing him and gazed at it thoughtfully. “From potions master to poison tester…just my luck…”
“Oh, stop with the whining, and just eat it!”
Reluctantly, he shoveled a forkful into his mouth…and then felt like his throat was on fire.
“Water is required…” he rasped.
“That’s not very complimentary!”
“Fact of life…water needed…fast…”
“Alright, here,” she sighed, handing him a glass which he quickly gulped down.
When he had recomposed himself, he blurted, “What is it with you and setting things aflame? You’ve been at it since first year, as I recall…a regular little pyromaniac…”
“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
He glared at the pan of macaroni, and his brow knit with suspicion. “Are you sure you’re not pregnant again or something?”
“And what’s THAT supposed to mean?” she retorted, crossing her arms.
“The record proves that when you’re pregnant, your cooking becomes…heated.”
“I like to add spice to life!” She smiled from ear to ear, and Snape started to look her over with an analytical eye.
“You are pregnant, aren’t you?” he queried pointedly.
She swatted at him with her apron as she took it off, but her blushing cheeks told all. “Now don’t you go telling Harry before I get the chance. It’s my little Valentine’s Day surprise for him.”
“Is it so surprising?” he challenged. “You two must be engaged in…regularity, as you’ve been reproducing like rabbits.”
“What a diplomatic way of putting it,” she clucked.
“I know what’s coming now,” he lamented. “You’ll get out one of those giant name books from the library, go through every single one of them, force me to divulge some opinion or other, then dismiss it altogether and name your latest offspring after someone who is deceased.”
“Well, I think it’s a good way to remember everybody that deserves remembering,” she offered. “Besides, you made it in as a middle name for one of the boys, and you’re not dead.”
“Lucky me,” he exalted. “But this time round, if your stricken with yet another male offspring, you’re going to name him after that house elf and your husband’s owl, I know you will.”
“Dobby Hedwig,” she pondered. “Hmm…it does have a nice ring to it at that…”
“I refute any and all responsibility for it,” he stated in earnest.
Hermione wagged her finger. “I think your problem is that you just can’t bear to think of your least favorite students populating the next generation.”
He shifted in his chair a little. “Actually, you…were one of my top pupils.” He bit his lip as if the admission was physically painful, and Hermione’s jaw fell open.
“So…now you regret letting your Slytherins get away with making sport of me all those years, and not letting me answer all those times when I raised my hand in class?”
“On the first count, judging from Draco Malfoy’s experiences with you, I do believe you were capable of holding your own.”
“You mean that time I punched him?”
“That…is a fair example. And as for the questions and answers sessions, if I had let you have the floor as often as you wanted it back in your know-it-all days, I do believe we’d still be trapped in that wretched course for time and all eternity.”
She laughed out loud. “Well, I’ll grant you that it’s just possible you scared a lot of us into passing those semesters when we ordinarily might not have, like you scare the poor boys into behaving better around here.”
“Those ‘poor boys’ of yours seem most undeterred in their efforts to root up the backyard and destroy the house,” he retorted.
“That’s because James and Albus Severus they’re just boys,” she reminded him. “I know you’re fairly ancient, but don’t you remember your boyhood days at all?” She tossed back her hair teasingly.
“I remember quite well, thank you, Mrs. Potter,” he retorted smugly, “but I don’t recall the need to be half as destructive.”
“Well…all my children aren’t that way.”
“No,” he conceded. “Not all.”
“You know Lily Luna thinks the world of you.”
“She’s four. She thinks the world of everybody.”
“Everybody isn’t who she runs over to when she enters a room, and climbs on top of, and makes tell her stories until she falls asleep.” She squinted. “And everybody isn’t the one who held her once, with his only good arm, the whole night long because she had a nightmare and cried herself to sleep.”
He shrugged. “Alright, then you have another female growing in there, and I’ll be better satisfied.” He pointed to her belly indicatively.
She rolled her eyes. “Well, you’re something of a seer. Why not test your skills?” She laid her hands over belly. “Go on, you can touch it.”
Hesitantly, he let his hand rest there, over the new life forming.
“Well?” Hermione prompted him.
“It is…a baby,” he stated, dead-pan.
“What expert skills at divining!” she teased, playfully taking his good hand, as if to give it a congratulatory shake.
To her surprise, he just squeezed hers a little, almost as if he were afraid she was going to jerk away before he could convey what he was feeling. She knew him well by now; she knew the way he felt things keenly, but refused to wear them on his sleeve, a hand-me-down from his long, weary years as a double-spy. She could read through the snide remarks and cutting criticisms, and sometimes when he wheeled himself into the kitchen to talk to her about nothing in particular, or forced on those prescription glasses that he hated, but she insisted that he wear, in order to read her something he had stumbled upon, she saw straight through to a loneliness that was palpable. He would never admit it, but he wanted a family as much as anyone. So she squeezed his hand back.
“In your condition, you should really be resting up, young lady, not cooking dragon flame casseroles,” he lectured her sternly.
“But I always get the urge to cook when I’m first pregnant! You should know that by now.”
“I do believe that if Potter is the one who keeps getting your belly full, he should be the one laboring to keep the oven full.”
She put a hand to her mouth, feigning shock. “Professor, really…”
“Look, you’re the closest thing to a daughter-in-law I think I shall ever have, and I want…I want to stay on top of him to do right by you, that’s all.”
Hermione smiled affectionately and knelt down to look at him, eye-level. Then after exchanging glances for several moments, she impulsively embraced him. He shrank against the back of his chair, and she remembered to go soft because firstly, he wasn’t used to being hugged, and secondly he had grown weaker and more sensitive to touch in the passing years of immobility. Still, leaning into him very gently, she waited for his good hand to brace her back, and it eventually did. Severus Snape hugged very rarely, but when he did, he meant it.
“My parents…they’re gone,” she whispered. “But…you’re here.”
“Poor replacement, I’m sure,” he muttered. “But…if it brings any comfort, that I still exist in this sphere…then my existence…has some worth at least.” He smiled slightly. “I just realized…I have never hugged two-in-one before.”
She chuckled softly and leaned back away from him. He looked amused at the way her bushy hair had gotten all out of sorts. “Have you ever tried conditioner on that wild head of yours?”
“Yes, can’t you tell?” Her eyes twinkled as she ran her fingers through her hair.
“Mmm…lime sherbet scented, isn’t it?”
“That it is.” She looked over her shoulder mischievously. “Harry finds it rather…appealing.”
“Your secret to ongoing motherhood?” he supposed.
“Maybe,” she beamed.
“What’s all this about secrets?” came a voice from behind them.
“Behold, he commeth,” Snape announced snarkily as Harry entered the kitchen, tossed his coat haphazardly on the table, deposited a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolate covered cherries on the counter, and commenced to “greeting” his wife. She squeaked as he grabbed her playfully by the middle and swung her into a long-lasting kiss.
“Go careful with her, you clumsy ape,” Snape growled.
“Oh, come on, can’t a man kiss his own wife on Valentine’s Day, you old bat?” Harry demanded cheekily. Hermione giggled, and fell into kissing him again.
Snape sighed. “This whole holiday is simply an excuse for a lot of useless sentimentality, over-consumption of sugary food, and expensive baubles to keep ramshackle relationships alive. And seriously, couldn’t you both do that…behind closed doors?”
“I do believe I closed the door when I came in, Snape,” Harry noted, in between kissing. “I’m not going to let you start censoring the kitchen as a no-go-zone!”
“Well…perhaps the professor is right,” she remarked coyly. “Want to…go upstairs for a spell? There’s something I’ve got to tell you, anyway…”
“Yes, there is,” Snape agreed. “So you might as well just…go get it over with.”
“Is the news that bad?” Harry queried.
“No, no, he’s just being his pessimistic self,” said Hermione dismissively.
“Yes, just feel free to take me with a grain of salt, as you usually do,” he scoffed.
“Whatever you say, Snape,” Harry agreed with a grin, and he and his wife both made their way out of the kitchen, leaving Snape alone with his own thoughts.
A few minutes later, Lily Luna burst into the room excitedly. “Sev-e-wus!” She alone in the household had the privilege of calling Snape by his first name, even if she did pronounce it in a disjointed fashion. Then, true to form, she ran over and started to clamber up on his wheelchair.
“Eh, careful…you’ll hurt somebody,” Snape grumbled. “There now – don’t catch your hand in the wheel…”
Soon she was all the way in, slumped against him, bracing herself against his shoulder, and started rambling incoherently about her day.
“I need some sort of 4-year-old translation book,” he muttered, pulling her up as she started to slide down. She clutched his collar with one hand for support. “Och…now don’t choke me…”
She just rested her head against his chest and looked up at him with her big, green, adoring eyes.
He sighed. “Want to….go out and watch the sun set with me?”
She nodded happily.
“Alright, then. Go put on your jacket. I’m not going to get lectured by your parents for letting you catch cold. Go on.”
Outside on the porch, Lily had once again scrambled into his chair as they watched the colorful streaks of the winter sun glisten like a thousand twinkling lights off the frosty meadow. Geese honked in unison as they flew up from the partially frozen lake, and their gray wings glinted blue and purple in the falling rays and melted into the first beams of a ghostly, lily-white rising moon.
“Tell me a story, Sev-e-wus,” she pleaded.
“Can you say…‘please’?” he queried.
“Please, Sev-e-wus,” she whispered.
He swallowed back a smile at her innocence. “Alright. You see the first star that comes out each evening?” He pointed up to the first point of purest light piercing the fading mauve of the dusk. “They say the evening star carries with it a soul…and to each person, it brings the soul of the person most loved by them, who have crossed over to the other side.”
“So the star…is like…a valentine?” she surmised.
“I suppose you could see it that way, yes.”
“But…all that way away…wouldn’t they…forget to love?”
Snape shook his head. “Some love never ends, dear. It just…gets brighter, like the star gets when the night falls.”
“How long…will mummy and daddy love me?”
“You don’t need me to answer that,” he disclaimed. “You know the answer already, in your heart.” He pointed to her chest indicatively and she smiled. She leaned back against him.
“How long…will you love me?”
He swallowed and looked up at the star, and the soul he imagined radiant within the light. “Always, Lily,” he promised, and felt the 4-year-old nuzzle against him.
“I love you, Sev-e-wus.”
He felt all his measured, monotone words dry up in his throat as his eyes burned like stars in the twilight, and he quietly stroked her soft, red hair, starting to hum an old lullaby under his breath that his Irish mother had once sung to him, many, many years ago. It was called “The Castle of Dromore”, and it lulled her into a peaceful sleep against him. Yes, gazing down at this trusting little child in his arms, he decided…being a part of a family was not so bad, after all.